Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The I and the We

The latest Technology Review, MIT’s superb journal, features an eye-opening and somewhat disturbing essay, The Trouble with Knowledge. Tender a glass of your favorite libation and settle into a comfy chair pre-consumption. It’s a lengthy and meaningful read.

British philosopher Roger Scruton catapults Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel, Erewhon, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in a progressive argument about the moral perils of technology advancement. Further interpretation is beyond this forum (and my noggin); have a read and let me know what you think.

There’s one patch of prose that caught my eye: a thoughtful evaluation of The ‘I’ and the ‘We’. Here’s a snapshot:

There are two contrasting attitudes that we take toward practical questions, which we might call the "I" attitude and the "we" attitude. As a rational agent, I see the world as a theater of action, in which I and my goals take a central place. I act to increase my power, to acquire the means to realize my objectives, to bring others to my side, and to work with them to overcome obstacles. This "I" attitude is implanted deep in the psyche, since it defines the starting point of all practical reasoning and contains an indelible intimation of the thing that distinguishes people from the rest of nature--namely, their freedom. There is a sense in which animals, too, are free: they make choices, do things both freely and under constraint. But animals are not accountable for what they do. They are not called upon to justify their conduct, nor are they persuaded or dissuaded by dialogue with others. This strange feature of the human condition has puzzled philosophers since Aristotle; and it is the foundation of all that is most important to us. All those goals that make human life into a thing of intrinsic value--justice, community, love--have their origin in the mutual accountability of persons, who respond to each other "I" to "I."
Entrepreneurs and creators are individuals (with a capital, bold-faced, 96-point “I”), propelled by self interests and societal pulls to create. The practice of creation – and the execution and sharing of what’s created – happens in a “we” sense. Entrepreneurs create products and deliver services that manifest value to others. Without such value exchange – e.g., participation of the “we” – the creation has no value; the “I” operates in a silo.

Scruton continues:
Behind all my projects, however, like a horizon against which they are projected, is another and quite different attitude. I am aware that I belong to a kind, and that kind has a place in nature. I am also aware that we are part of a world to which we are adapted. Whereas the "I" attitude seeks change and improvement, overcoming the challenges presented by nature, the "we" attitude seeks stasis and accommodation, confirming that we and our world are at one. Things that threaten the equilibrium between human beings and our environment, either by destroying that environment or by undermining human nature, awaken in us a profound sense of unease, even of sacrilege. The "we" attitude tells us that we must never disturb the two fixed points of our universe, the environment and human nature. This attitude may be the residue of prehistorical events, an unconscious memory of the original harmony between "our hunting fathers" and their natural home, from which our species departed on its journey into knowledge. But it continues to exert its influence on our practical reasoning, filling our minds with ideas of a prelapsarian innocence.
Entrepreneurs face an obvious challenge: The dissonance between adapting to the world and making a positive contribution (change). Adaptation, the utilization of existing resources, and the fulfillment of inadequately met needs are tenets of entrepreneurship. Scruton adds:
It will be objected that human nature does not stand still. The "I"' attitude restlessly pursues the path of invention, and in doing so radically changes the focus and the goal of human conduct.
Entrepreneurs are anything but still, and we can hope that a greater good (a societal and economic moral compass?) weeds out those operating in we-disrupting ways.

No comments: